Spencer has garnered critical acclaim for his Image titles "Existence 2.0"and "Forgetless." He's also writing the Jimmy Olsen co-feature for "Action Comics."
The title will feature a Frank Quitely cover for its debut issue and each issue of the new ongoing series will include a 20-page lead story, written by Spencer, and 10-page co-features.
"T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" was originally a bi-monthly series published by Tower Comics. It ran for 20 issues, from November 1965 through November 1969. T.H.U.N.D.E.R., which stands for The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves, operates outside the boundaries of national interest, working to achieve world peace.
In this relaunch, a new batch of recruits has been asked to take on the mantle of the original Agent,s and while the team faces some difficult choices of their own, Dynamo, Lightning and NoMan are forced to re-visit members of the classic team's troubled past…and some of its deadliest threats.
CBR News spoke with Spencer about the new series and the writer told us that T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents will operate like no other superhero team currently within the DCU, and that the very concept of heroes vs. villains will not only be explored but tested to the limits in every issue.
Now, you're a young guy, so you wouldn't know T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents from its first run in the 1960s. That being the case, how familiar are you with the franchise?
Nick Spencer: I'm a big Wally Wood fan, so I was familiar with his work on the book and had read the first volume of the hardcovers before DC came to me. And since I got the job, I've read the entire original run.
So how did you land on this assignment?
My editor Wil Moss had been reading "Forgetless," which is one of my Image books, and he contacted me to see if I was interested in pitching some stuff to DC. So I did and none of them came to fruition, but then he emailed me a couple of weeks later and said that DC has acquired the rights to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and were looking for some pitches. So that's how the ball got rolling.
Will your take be a re-imagining of the concept?
No, no, it's a continuation. Everything that happened in the original story is honored and is a part of the story, but this happens some years down the road. The influences for this book are titles like "Planetary," "The Authority," "Secret Warriors" and "Checkmate." It's not a standard superhero book by any means. I think when people check it out, they'll see that this is really a world apart from anything else that's out there currently.
Do readers need to go back and read through the original "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" series to follow this re-launch?
No. we realize that for a lot of folks, they won't be familiar with the original stories, and we're taking great pains to get them up to date and to make those past stories a part of this story. So you can certainly jump on with the first issue.
OK then, for readers unfamiliar with the property, what's the core premise of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents?
The core premise is really a question: What if you had either made some mistakes in your life or had something happen to you that left you in a place where you were basically at the end of your rope? You were basically out of options and there was no way to fix things and your life was basically ruined and someone came to you and offered you a choice. You can do great things, be absolved of your sins, redeem yourself in the eyes of the world and become a hero, but if you do, you'll die within a year. And so, that is the central question that is posed to all of these new recruits. And the choice they make is to accept it.
Yeah, that is the hook of the book – making that choice.
Are classic heroes like Dynamo, NoMan and Lightning and Menthor still T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents too?
What happened to the original members is something that will play out over the course of the first arc, and with the exception of one, they are not a part of the new team.
Which original member returns?
NoMan does return. He's a part of the new team.
Will he be playing a mentor role to the new recruits?
No. NoMan isn't in the position to be mentoring anyone. If you are familiar with the original stories, essentially he has been moving from body to body – part of his ability is to move into cloned bodies that he has stored in various places – and every time that he does, he loses a little bit more of himself. He becomes a little less human – a little bit more detached. And so by the time we meet him, in this current incarnation of "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents," he's in a very strange place. Part of the reason why he decides to rejoin the team, and become a part of it again, is his attempt at reconnecting with his lost humanity.
Can you take us through the rest of the roster?
I'll give you three for now.
One is Lightning who has super-speed, but every time he accelerates, it shortens his life. So every time he hits a certain speed, minutes and hours and days are chipping off of his lifespan. And he can see this. He can see the end of his life getting nearer and nearer.
Then we have Dynamo, who has super-strength and invulnerability. But again, every time he uses it, he is gradually eroding his nervous system. He is gradually doing severe damage to his body and he has to be careful how often and for how much duration he uses it.
And then we have NoMan, who is a member of the original team, who can transfer his consciousness into other bodies and also has the powers of levitation and invisibility.
So, it's the same T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent names, but new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents in the roles?
Yes. These are completely new characters assuming these roles. This is a new Dynamo and a new Lightning and who they are and why they accepted this choice is something that we'll explore over the course of the first arc.
Is there a trigger that brings this team back together when the title launches , or are T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents already active?
One of the things that we're going to do in this book is move around a lot in the timeline, so when we first begin, the team has been assembled. The new roster has been put together and they are on their first mission. Then, we're going to go back and look at why they signed up for this, why they were approached and why they were a fit for the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.
Will we see any classic T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent villains, like Iron Maiden or Andor?
We are going to see these classic T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent villains. One of the things that I loved was that they have a terrific rogues gallery, and I wanted to update and re-imagine those for a modern era. So in this first arc, we're going to be dealing with SPIDER, which is a terrorist organization. One of the things that I wanted to do in this story is explore the line between good and bad. The line between hero and villain is a very blurry one, here, and with the leadership of SPIDER, we're dealing with a very young, idealistic, passionate group of people who want to do good. They're not villains. They're just people who have taken to very direct, very violent tactics in order to overthrow what they see as evil government and private entities.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R., it should be mentioned, stands for The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves. The United Nations is a very different entity and play a very different role today than it did in the 1960s. Will that transformation be explored in the book?
What you're going to see is that we'll take about exactly that. We'll talk about the ways the United Nations has changed and what T.H.U.N.D.E.R.'s relationship with the United Nations would be like now as opposed to then. That's certainly one of the key points to the story.
The first image we get to see of the new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is by Frank Quitely. You felt you needed to give an up-and-comer a chance for your first cover, I assume?
Obviously, when you're doing your first DC book, having Frank Quitely draw your cover is a huge honor and, at the same time, terrifying. He did such an amazing piece for it. I just saw it for the first time this week, and it's breathtaking. Suddenly, something that I've been working on for months was real, and to see it realized by a legend like that is incredible. My responsibility, and CAFU's, is making sure the pages on the inside deserve that cover.
And is CAFU up to the task?
Yes. And he's really perfect for this book, because he has sort of a [Bryan] Hitch-esque vibe, I would say. The work that he has done for DC has always got people on the message boards and the forums [talking about] how good he is, and this is really his big moment. I think people are going to be just blown away.
I'm very aware of what a tough sell these kind of books can sometimes be in the current marketplace, and I think what it calls all of us to do – when you have seen the failure of other books around you, regardless of how good they are – is to sit down and say, "Let's not play it safe. Let's go all out and try something different." I really do think when people pick up the first issue and read it that it is going to be something that people are going to take notice of. I think we have a book that is going to start a lot of conversations.